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RPG Blog Carnival, March 2017:

THINGS IN THE DARK

 

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This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Things in the Dark”. Much like MoebiusAdventures, the host of this month’s theme, I’m going to focus my post on a creature – actually, a race* of creatures.

This was really my first thought as I read the theme description for this month’s Carnival, because I’ve been working on a race of literally dark beings for a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game I’m currently running. So, I’d like to thank MoebiusAdventure for showing that was an acceptable approach; otherwise, I might have thought it was too far afield.

So, ever since the I first saw the entry for “Shade” in TSR’s Monster Manual II for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons edition waaaaaay back in 1983, I’ve been kind of fascinated with them, and really it was this image that captured my young imagination:

D&DShade


SpooOOOooky, huh?

Basically, by the book, Shades are a not-quite-a-race of beings that other races can be transformed into under the right – or wrong, depending on how you look at it – circumstances. But for me, my first impression from that image was of Shades as a race unto themselves, with a powerful connection to some primordial essence of darkness or shadow. Young me thought that was pretty cool.

So, yeah – that stuck in my head…for about 30 years!

I started actually developed my version of them for a 13th Age game I ran a few years ago. Races are really easy to write up in 13th Age, so I was able to create a basic representation of my idea. In the fantasy cosmology of that homebrew setting, they were one of the very first races, one that existed even before light illuminated the world.

But for the game I am currently running we’re using the Celtic mythos and cosmology as a basis for the setting, and so I fit the origin of the Shade into that. In a common Celtic creation myth the mother and father of the gods, Danu and Donn, are formed out of a cosmic chaos, love each other, and become inseparable. They have children who eventually become some of the bigger names of Celtic mythology – but these children cannot truly grow without first escaping the womb-like embrace of their parents. They do so by running Donn through with a sword and sundering him into bits that form the Earth.

In that womb-like darkness I saw a perfect place for the origin of the Shade. In this version, there was disagreement among these First Children about how to break out or whether to do it at all, at the risk of killing one of their parents. Among the dissenters was Scaedh (skage). Scaedh saw value in the dark, and sought to further explore its reaches untainted by the light of what would come should one or both of their parents be destroyed. In the end, Donn was slain and the world was made. Scaedh fled to the darkest reaches of this new world, high and low, and from Scaedh sprang a race of shadow-people.

Culled from various versions of the Shades for various editions of D&D, here’s my write-up as it stands now, for the purposes of our current game. There are a lot of darkness-related abilities I could give them, but I’m trying to strike a balance of benefits and restrictions that matches the overall power-level of the core races in the D&D 5E Players Handbook. This is my first try at this, so it could easily have many issues. I haven’t introduced Shades as a racial option for characters yet, and since I’m basing a lot of the setting on choices the players make I don’t have any solid ideas regarding Shade culture and history.


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Shade

Shades are descended from Scaedh, one of the First Children – the original offspring of Donn and Danu.  Scaedh preferred the original darkness of the inseparable Donn and Danu to the harsh light of the world that was made when Scaedh’s siblings slew Donn to gain their freedom from that dark womb-like existence.

Shades are human in size and shape, but their skin and features are all a barely-reflective black. Even the clothing they wear and items they carry take on a similar shadowy appearance. The longer an item has been in close contact with a Shade’s body, the longer it will take to regain its normal appearance when removed from their presence.

A Shade’s body is made partly from the essence of shadow and darkness. They weigh less than what a normal creature their size might weigh and produce less body heat. They require little food or drink, and in fact have little sense of taste or smell with which to enjoy such things.

Shade Names

Shades use names common to wherever they are living at the time. They also have a Shade name which is a treasured and closely-guarded secret. Shade outcasts are formally stripped of their Shade name and all Shades are thenceforth forbidden to use it in any way.
Female Shade Names often end with -el, -em, -en, -eth, and -ith,: Gilel, Kivem, Velen, Seseth, Nilith.
Male Shade Names tend to end in -ef, -ek, -en, -eng, -ev, and -ik: Vekef, Velek, Ekden, Geneng, Grenev, Villik.

Shade Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age. Shades mature very slowly compared to humans, reaching maturity by 100 years of age, and can live as long as 1000 years or more.
Alignment. Although leaning toward chaotic alignments, Shades find distinctions between good and evil and law and chaos rather small-minded.
Size. Shades are generally between 5′ 6” and 6′ 1 “. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet, 45 feet when in shadows or darkness.
Shadowsight. You can see normally in dim light and even total darkness, both magical and non-magical.
Light Aversion: You have disadvantage on any Concentration checks when you are in brightly-lit environments. You are not able to cast spells with the ‘fire’ or ‘light’ descriptors.
Darkling Form. You have resistance to poison and cold, but vulnerability to radiant damage. You only need  4 hours of sleep per day, but you cannot regain hit dice or hit points in brightly-lit environments.
Shadow Step. When you are in shadow or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space that you can see that is also in shadow or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make that turn.
Whispers in the Dark. As an action when in shadow or darkness, you can whisper a message to a single creature within 120 feet who is also in shadow or darkness. The target hears the message and can reply in a whisper, that only you can hear. The whisper can pass through solid objects if you are familiar with the target and know it is beyond the object(s). This ability is subject to magical silence spells and their effects.
The Stuff of Shadows. You have advantage in stealth checks made to hide in shadows.
Proficiencies: Arcana, Intimidate, Stealth
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Shadic, Common, Undercommon, and Primordial.
Shades are classified as the humanoid creature type.

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That’s it! Like I said, this is my first try at this, so please comment below with any thoughts or suggestions.

*For those unfamiliar with the usage, the term “race” in fantasy roleplaying games is used to distinguish elves from humans, hobbits from dwarves, etc., rather than in the modern, very unscientific usage which seeks to distinguish one ancestry of homo sapiens from another.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

RPG Blog Carnival, February 2016:
HOW DO YOU INSPIRE YOUR PLAYERS?

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This is either my first RPG Blog Carnival post or my first in a very long time. I’m just going to answer the questions posed in the February, 2016 monthly topic intro post.

What do you do to get players excited and eager to play each session?

On a session-by-session basis, I don’t, and that’s something I should look into. I guess I’m assuming too much, that if they turn up then they must be interested and motivated to continue playing. That’s a reasonable assumption, but shouldn’t be taken for granted.

How have you gotten players keen to dive into that new campaign you just spent weeks preparing?

I just pitch a few ideas and run with whatever garners the most interest. Increasingly, I involve the player’s more in setting creation.

Once in a while, I’ll find something like this D-Day paratrooper jump scene from Band of Brothers, which I showed my players before the first session of a short-run Godlike game I ran, or the opening theme sequence from the 2001 Justice League animated series, which I showed before running a four-color Mutants & Masterminds game.

What approaches do you take to keep players’ faces out of their cells phones and focused on your game?

I’m constantly on the lookout for waning interest or lack of focus in my players and in myself. I try to never stay on any one action or decision for long, whether it be mine or something in the player’s hands.

What do you do to inspire your players?

In the big scheme of things, I only run settings or genres that have cache with my group. On a smaller scale, I try to feed them what they want in the moment, altering my short-term plans at the drop of a hat.

Do you make handouts, use technology, suggest books to read, GM a certain way, use player surveys?

I’ve rarely had a group that would read anything unless forced to.

I’ve been looking at infinitely-scalable map-making using something like Mischief, as a gaming resource that could be built up over time and fun to interact with and contribute to.

I’ve also been building boards on Pinterest lately, but haven’t actually run the games yet that would use them. Those boards consist of images of races and species, creatures, character ideas, and locations. I would make the races or species stuff available to the players, and share the rest as the players encounter those people and places.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

STAR WARS: EDGE OF THE EMPIRE 

An evolving review, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the game
Part 3

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I’m going to start getting more into my critique and evolving, probably incomplete hack of Fantasy Flight GamesStar Wars: Edge of the Empire roleplaying game. I’ll be talking about the game’s dice mechanic, but for a detailed explanation of how that works in the game as published, see my previous blog post.

Basically, SW:EOTE uses a dice pool system for task resolution. There are six kinds of dice – seven if Force Dice come into play.  Those six kinds of dice each have a different color, so it’s easy to grab the ones you need, but the exact number of each kind of die will change with every new situation.

Those six kinds of dice come in two types: positive dice and negative dice.

There are six different possible results on them: Success,  Advantage, and Triumph are the positive results, and Failure, Threat,  and Despair are the negative results.

Each of those six possible results are more common on some of the six kinds of dice than on others.

Some negative results cancel out positive results.

Some die faces have more than one result on them.

One or more faces on each die are blank, with no result.

Every time I describe this dice system, no matter how I slice it I’m struck by how awkward it is. There are aspects of it that would become second nature with practice, but that seems like an unnecessary barrier to new and/or casual gamers. Being such a high-profile, cross-media, all-ages popular culture powerhouse, a priority in designing a Star Wars roleplaying game should be accessibility.

But what I also see are seeds of a simpler, more streamlined system that integrates the excellent three-tiered positive and negative results idea throughout the system. More on that later.

Now, I am not qualified to analyze the probabilities of rolling any given result on N number of dice of X types, so I’m hesitant to suggest an alternate dice system. Any alterations are going to change the odds of one thing or another, but what follows are three options I’ve come across that could be improvements.

Trentin C. Bergeron (user name: TreChriron) offers an option on the rpg.net forums that uses common six-sided dice only, in just three different colors. That simplifies the dice themselves right off the bat. A base “chance roll” of 3d6 is rolled simultaneously with positive and negative dice, the net result of the latter two adjusting the former.

Basically, you come up with two totals and adjust one with the other. The net result is compared to a target number of 13 to determine how well you succeed or fail. Rolling doubles gets you your Advantages and Threats, and rolling triples gets you Triumph and Despair results. I’m a big fan of rewarding multiples on a roll.

Overall, it seems a little awkward still and rough around the edges, but worth pursuing.

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Over at Yaruki Zero Games, Ewen Cluney has created Destiny Dice, his own open license dice mechanic modeled after SW:EOTE’s dice pool system. Destiny Dice is designed for use in Evil Hat’s Fate games, but could easily be used for FFG’s Star Wars rpgs as well. He’s come up with much more obvious, intuitive symbols for the six possible results, and uses customized 6-sided dice only. He hasn’t eliminated much of the awkwardness of reading the results, though.

He also replaces the Triumph/Despair poles with Hope/Despair which both makes more sense and is a nice reference to what started it all, A New Hope. One could also go with Triumph/Defeat, which also makes more sense. This might all be the pedantic grammarian in me coming out, though.

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Bill Edmunds’ Meta Dice are also a promising replacement for SW:EOTE’s dice, and have exciting applications for many other games as well. Definitely worth a look.

If I were to choose or design an alternative dice mechanic to replace FFG’s – which, as I mentioned above, I do not feel qualified to do – I would want fewer kinds of dice, only one result per die face, more intuitive icons, and maybe no blank faces. I would base the negative dice on the stats (Characteristic scores, Skill ranks, etc.) of the opposition.

However, I’m getting into the topic for my next post: changing how characters are built, and integrating character and other stats into the existing dice mechanic.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

alignment

STAR WARS: EDGE OF THE EMPIRE 

An evolving review, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the game
Part 1

swe02_boxlayout

 

I started running SW:EOTE several months ago. My 13 year-old son played Pathfinder on and off with his friends for years, but started complaining that the games were getting too same-old same-old. I got him some Pathfinder card decks, designed to jazz-up combat, encounters, and adventures in general. They got used some, and they’ll be handy for other games and if he returns to Pathfinder in the future, but he was still ready for something new.

 

So, I thought about games that would be similar enough to Pathfinder to be accessible to him and his friends, but different enough to seem fresh and to broaden his roleplaying game horizons. My friend and sometimes gaming guru Chris Rogers- of The Die is Podcast – mentioned Fantasy Flight GamesStar Wars: Edge of the Empire, and was even kind enough to send me his copy from the other side of the planet. Like Pathfinder, characters in SW:EotE are built much like various iterations of Dungeons & Dragons, but the system has a unique and dynamic dice mechanic – and it’s Star Wars! That all sounded like just the thing.

 

So I started running the game for my usual group, and included my son. I immediately realized I would be hand-waving a lot of things, because in play the rules seemed oddly not very Star Wars-y to me.

 

Thanksgiving rolled around, and my son wanted me to run a scenario for him and his cousins that weekend. I decided to see what I could do to simplify character creation, so I whipped up a quick character creation one-sheet. I wound up not running it for them that weekend, but this quick re-write got me thinking more analytically about what I like and don’t like about the game.

 

Below you’ll find said one-sheet. I changed some terms to make things maybe a bit more accessible, I dumped 2 of the 6 ability scores, rejiggered Skills, and smooshed together some of the defensive stuff. The Species stuff is incomplete. The Skills are not very well balanced here. Page numbers refer to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook

 

*****

 

BACKGROUND (p. 37)
1-5: citizen
5-8: insider
9-10: outsider

 

TURNING POINT (p. 37-38)
1-2: opportunity knocked
3-4: higher calling
5-6: made an enemy
7-8: feet of clay
9-10: wrong place, wrong time

 

OBLIGATION (p.38-43)
1: betrayed
2: traitor
3: blackmailed
4: bounty
5: wanted (criminal record)
6: debt
7: duty (oath, responsibility)
8: family
9: favor
10: obsessed

 

MOTIVATION (p. 94-97)
roll d10 for all charts

 

SPECIES (p. 43-53)
(unfinished)

Bothan Droid Gand Human Rodian Trandoshan Twilek Wookie
Brawn 1 1 2 2 1 3 1 3
Agility 2 1 2 2 3 1 2 2
Cunning 3 1 2 2 2 2 2 2
Will 2 1 3 2 2 2 3 2
Wound Threshold +2 +4
Strain Threshold +1 -1 +1 -2
Starting XP 100 175 100 100 100 90 100 90

 

CAREER (p. 53-91)
Use as-is for now, but need new skill bonus lists.
Not using Specializations for now.

 

SKILLS (p. 103-124)
(abbreviations are for Brawn, Agility, Cunning, and Will)

Physical
brawl – B or A
move – A
perform – A
shoot (choose: light, heavy, mounted) – A
sneak – A
stunts – B or A

Mental
fix – C (choose: electronic, mechanical, weapons, propulsion)?
fly –  A (choose: ground, small space, medium space, large space)?
focus – W
hack – C
heal – C
know – C (choose: core worlds, outer rim, education, lore, underworld, xenology)
sense – C
survive – W (choose: street, desert, arctic, forest, water, space)

Social
charm – W
deal – W
fool/trick – W
lead – W
scare – W

 

(TALENTS (p. 128-145) – IGNORE  FOR  NOW, but figure out a smoother continuum/integration from stats to skills to talents)

 

WEAPONS
Price
Damage (divide by 5)
Encumbrance
HP (was Structure Threshold)
Special
(Ignore everything else.)

 

ARMOR
Price
Defense + Soak = Threshold bonus
Hard Points
(Ignore everything else)

To do:
Look at stats, thresholds, and skills – integrate them more. Replace some terms with something Star Warsier: “threshold” might have to go, for instance.

 

*****


Next time, I will explore more of my conceptual and design thoughts regarding SW:EOTE.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

alignment

RPGaDay 2015

19th: Favorite Supers RPG

Ah, supers! Now we’re in my wheelhouse! I think I can claim that I have played, run, or am at least familiar with at least a technical majority of super-hero roleplaying games ever published.

I love super-heroes. I love comic books. These are things you need to know about me.

Now, I’m gonna do it – I’m going to mention Lowell Francis again: his Patreon page provides links to all of his Histories of Roleplaying Genres blog posts. Of interest here, of course, is his History of Superhero RPGs.

My own history with supers rpgs runs something like this:

Villains & Vigilantes. We played this as soon as it came out and loved it. Having played D&D for a couple-few years before V&V was published, being able to play a super-hero in an rpg was terribly exciting. It’s a fun, won my game, with random character generation and cross-reference charts! That’s how nerdy kids in the old days spelled “fun”.

Then Champions came out, and nothing was ever the same again. V&V had a lot in common with D&D and other rpgs of that era, but Champions was a while new ball game. Did I say V&V was nerdy fun? Champions was the game of champion nerds. It’s all about fiddly calculations and squeezing every bit of utility and power out of every fraction of a character creation point. I consider myself pretty smart, but you have to have a certain kind of brain to love and to master Champions.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the game; I just know that my own noodly proclivities will send me down rabbit holes in Champions that I will regret spending so much time on. But it’s a beautiful system; you truly can build anything from the building blocks that are the Hero system.

DC Heroes. I have a real fondness for this game, I think because it seemed like such a relief after the crunchiness of Champions. It felt like a more “mature” approach, somehow: the fiddly bits were pretty easy to grok, it had that wonderful Action Point scale, and I still carry a torch for that 9-grid attribute block.

[Long gap with little supers gaming. Sadface.]

Then Mutants & Masterminds hit! M&M is one of the most robust game systems I have ever had the pleasure to read, play, and run. It is rock solid. Like Champions, you components of the system allow you to build pretty much anything,g but without much of the Hero system’s crunchiness. I knew the game was impressive when I realized that Captain America being able to walk away from a fight with the Hulk actually made sense in M&M and worked mechanically.

M&M captures the pulpy feel of super-hero comics despite it’s crunchier aspects. As I mentioned my RPGaDay2p15 post on sci-phi games, I have considered using M&M for Star Trek, and as a big Star Trek fan that is no small complement from me.

[A couple years gap with no supers gaming. Also sad face.]

Smallville.

I could go on for a while about Smalville, the Dramatic version of the Cortex Plus system. Suffice to say:

  1. It’s one of the few rpg rules books I own a hard copy of.
  2. It’s one of the few rpg rules books I have read all or most of.
  3. Character creation is a collaborative, creative process that produces rich results.
  4. I dig the core mechanic, which regularly asks you why your character is even in a given scene or encounter.

Those are the supers games that I’ve played or run at length. I’ve been in a few very short games using the Marvel Super Heroes Role-playing Game (aka “FASERIP”) over the years, and liked it okay. I’ve also had a couple of flirtations with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, also a Cortex Plus game. I’d be happy to play more FASERIP, and I’d love to get in on some face-to-face MHR action.

Worlds in Peril was brought to my attention recently. I’ve skimmed the free odd version of the rules, and it is very narrative, and I mean that in the best possible way. Powers are essential a set of descriptive statements. Over all it seems very promising.

If I had to run a supers game right now…I love M&M but I’d rather not have to run it again… I might try Truth & Justice I’m not in love with the fiddlier bits in Smallville (I’m working on a hack of it with the help of the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide)… I’ve been wanting to use Danger Patrol for something, so I think I’d give that a try, but it’s not a supers game, per se.

I guess my vote would have to be for Mutants & Masterminds as my favorite supers rpg. It may be the strongest supers game ever made.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

alignment

RPGaDay 2015

18th: Favorite SF RPG

I don’t know that I have one.

I’ve used GURPS for my own loose setting many, many years ago. I enjoyed the old FASA Star Trek rpg back in the day. I’ve run a Star Trek game using a homebrew loosely based on Decipher’s Star Trek rpg. My best friend ran a fun Firefly-ish game using his own homebrew. I think I played some original Traveller back in the day. Other than that…???

If I had to run a sci-fi game right now…well, that would depend on the setting. If it was Star Trek, there’s a couple of fan-made systems and hacks out there I’d take a look at again, or I’d use Mutants and Masterminds. The mechanics and the way characters are built captures the pulp feel of classic Star Trek pretty well, albeit in a more cluttered way than I’d prefer. If it was Star Wars… I’d probably look at Fate, the many system hacks out there, or a variant of Lowell Francis’ Action Cards. For something in the Firefly or Traveller vein, just sort of generic trouble-makers in space… I’m so not motivated to run anything like that right now that I can’t get my head around it.

I feel like sci-fi roleplaying game systems tend to get bogged down in the additional mechanics supposedly required by their settings, like starship combat, space fighter-craft combat, various high-tech weapons, etc. I’d rather a system that could come up with a set of mechanics that would apply to every kind of task resolution, rather than tacking on special rules and sub-systems.

I will take this as an opportunity for anyone reading this to educate me: suggest a game system to me that does this. I readily accept my own ignorance here. The only system that I can think of that just off that the bat would probably be able to accomplish this is Fate.

Actually, just writing this has jogged my memory – if I wanted to run an actual, “hard” science-fiction game, I’d take another look at Shock, by Joshua A. C. Newman, so that going to be my pick. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s pretty interesting…

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

alignment

RPGaDay 2015

17th: Favorite Fantasy RPG

Boy – that’s a rough one; I like different things about different systems. If I had to pick a rules-set to use right now, it’d probably be 13th Age; it is the simplest fantasy ruleset I know that still has a very easy buy-in and familiarity to any gamer who has played D&D or Pathfinder.

That said, here’s some systems I’ve been intrigued by lately. I have this Frankenstein-like homebrew I’m working on, and in the pursuit of that I have looked at a LOT of fantasy RPGs, to see what I like and don’t like in a rules system.

Simon Washbourne’s Barbarians of Lemuria.
Mostly I like the loosey-goosey magic system. The link above is to an early, free version, but there are many newer editions.


Gregory Phillpotts’ By a Throw of the Dice.
Another nice loosey-goosey magic system.

 

Gates & Gorgons, by Rafael Chandler and Kobayashi.
This game has attitude – ruthless, deadly attitude.

Tim Kirk’s High Valor.
I like a lot of how characters are built and how their traits get used.


Matthew M. Slepin’s Swords of Fortune.
For it’s “dark” pulp fantasy tone.

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ceci says

did I just say that? (adventures in stream-of-consciousness writing)

Ellen Starr Lyon

commited to creating art while being a full-time working mom

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